The victims of horrendous abuses in Bangladesh going back decades should be the first concern of anyone interested in the defense of human rights and the support of the rule of law. The efforts to bring those most responsible to justice for the planning and ordering of wide scale atrocities should, in normal circumstances, be welcomed. The aim of such trials is not only to punish the perpetrator, but to recognize the rights of victims and survivors as real people with real rights, and to help ensure these horrors cannot occur again by establishing credible and effective institutions of justice and protection.
The procedures of the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh over the last several years to bring those allegedly responsible for the crimes against huge numbers of civilians in 1971 have given grounds for the utmost concern. Those who have followed the trials closely have expressed well-founded fears about fundamental unfairness in the pre-trial and trial stages. One person has already been executed as a result of these proceedings. Another execution is imminent.
In the meantime, the last two years has seen significant levels of violence and abuses, including killings and disappearances in Bangladesh. Some human rights activists claim these are the responsibility of the state.
Bangladesh remains a deeply divided, even polarized society. Its future hope lies in the establishment of strong, rights-respecting institutions and governments. If criminal trials are believed to be little more than political instruments they defeat the solemn and noble purpose for which they are meant to be used. They undermine rather than restore the goal of trust.
ICTJ is a strong supporter of national authorities taking the responsibility to conduct national trials. However, only credible national trials can help restore trust in national institutions. If the credibility of those proceedings is as frequently and compellingly challenged as has been the case in Bangladesh, serious steps have to be taken to correct the course.
ICTJ supports calls to suspend current proceedings and for the creation of an independent international monitoring effort to assess the nature of the proceedings and to issue recommendations as to how steps could be taken to render the trials credible and fair.